Olympic Women’s Steeple — The Formchart Blows Up

Silver medalist Courtney Frerichs was seeded only No. 7; gold medalist Peruth Chemutai wasn’t in the Top 10 at all. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

PRE-OLYMPIC PROGNOSTICATION focused on three experienced contenders:
•Formcharted No. 1 was Rio runner-up Hyvin Kiyeng (previously known as Jepkemoi) of Kenya, the ’15 world champion who was the silver medalist at Rio, 3rd at London ’17 and 8th at Doha ’19;
•WR holder Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, reigning world champion and 4th at both Rio and London ’17, but an 0–3 loser to Kiyeng this year;
•American Emma Coburn, 5th, 1st and 2nd at the last three Worlds and the Rio bronze medalist.

All three were preceded on the yearly list by 20-year old Mekides Abebe Demewoz, the new Ethiopian Recordholder, and Kenyan-turned-Bahraini Winfred Yavi, 4th in Doha. Nowhere on the chart, and only No. 19 on the list was Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai, who had finished a place behind Yavi in Doha.

The heats were conducted on a hot (90F/32C), oppressively humid morning. Yavi and Chemutai traded leads in the first, won by Yavi in 9:10.80, history’s fastest-ever qualifying time. Coburn elected to remain a safe 3rd, conserving energy.

AR holder Courtney Frerichs found herself in a close group of a half-dozen in the slower second heat, then made a strong break after 2K and opened a large gap which carried her safely to the finish.

Eight competitors were whittled to 5, led by Kiyeng and including American Val Constien, in the last 600 of the third heat. All advanced to the final three days later.

Run on another hot, muggy evening, the final made hash of the formchart. It began at a comfortable pace, with the Kenyans taking an early lead. Chemutai moved ahead over the first waterjump, followed by Chepkoech, Kiyeng, the three Americans and European champion Gesa-Felicitas Krause of Germany, owner of a pair of WC bronzes. The order remained the same, with the addition of Yavi, past the 1K mark in 3:05.18.

Chemutai, who hurdles the water jumps, maintained her lead until Frerichs took over at about the halfway point, and six runners — including Chepkoech, Kiyeng, Yavi and Coburn — opened a slight gap, soon to be joined by Slovenia’s Maruša Mišmaš-Zrimšek, whose 4:03 speed made her an instant threat.

With just under 3 laps to go, Frerichs (2000m in 6:05.17), Chemutai and Kiyeng had separated from the rest. Coburn was now 15m behind, and Chepkoech was a further 5m and fading. At the first hurdle after the 2-to-go sign, Frerichs, now running at full effort in a brave long drive for home (“I was absolutely redlining”), led Chemutai by 10m, with Kiyeng another 15m back, just ahead of Mišmaš-Zrimšek, Yavi and a clearly laboring Coburn.

500m from the finish Chemutai began her ultimate kick for the lead, which she gained on the final backstretch. She proceeded to glide away, opening a big gap and raising her right arm in triumph 30m from the finish. She crossed the line in 9:01.45, moving to No. 8 on the all-time world list.

Frerichs held off a surging Kiyeng 9:04.79–9:05.39, just ahead of the late-arriving Abebe (9:06.16). Krause (9:14.00) edged the surprising Slovene (9:14.84 NR) for 5th. Coburn, 12 seconds out of contention at the bell, tripped over a barrier on the final lap, rolled onto the infield and was disqualified.

The 22-year-old Chemutai, the first Ugandan woman to qualify for an Olympic final, let alone medal (although the first women’s world champion was Ugandan Dorcus Inzikuru in 2005), said, “I thought about going, but the American girl came in front. With 500m remaining, I just decided to go, and I went hard until the finish. I am so happy to be the Olympic champion.”

Said Frerichs, who had collapsed to the track in tears of joy at her achievement, “I didn’t win, but I came away with silver, and I am really happy with this. My strength is my strength, and I didn’t want it to come down to a kick. When Chemutai came up on me, I was aware that I was starting to fall apart. I knew that if I could just keep it together, I was going to hold on for a silver.”

Kiyeng, who ran while nursing a bad hamstring, is now considering a move to the roads, to try to alleviate a history of steeple injuries.

A disappointed Coburn said, “I felt really confident, like I could beat everyone today. I was really relaxed, really focused, in the right headspace. But then my body just shut down. This will be a really hard one to walk away from.”


WOMEN’S STEEPLE RESULTS

(August 04) (temperature 84F/29C; humidity 73%)

1. Peruth Chemutai (Uga) 9:01.45 NR (8, x W)

(17.3, 35.0, 69.5) (3:05.18);

2. Courtney Frerichs (US) 9:04.79 (AL) (x, 5 A)

(18.8, 37.8, 74.1) (6:05.17);

3. Hyvin Kiyeng (Ken) 9:05.39

(16.6, 35.4, 68.9);

4. Mekides Abebe Demewoz (Eth) 9:06.16;

5. Gesa-Felicitas Krause (Ger) 9:14.00;

6. Maruša Mišmaš-Zrimsek (Slo) 9:14.84 NR;

7. Beatrice Chepkoech (Ken) 9:16.33;

8. Wondimagegn Zerfe (Eth) 9:16.41 PR (4, x WJ);

9. Elizabeth Bird (GB) 9:19.68 NR;

10. Winfred Yavi (Bhr) 9:19.74;

11. Geneviève Lalonde (Can) 9:22.40 NR;

12. Val Constien (US) 9:31.61;

13. Luiza Gega (Alb) 9:34.10;

14. Carolina Robles (Spa) 9:50.96;

… dnf—Genevieve Gregson (Aus);

… dq—Emma Coburn (US).

HEATS (August 01)

I–1. Yavi 9:10.80 (fastest prelim ever); 2. Chemutai 9:12.72; 3. Coburn 9:16.91; 4. Lalonde 9:22.64 NR; 5. Purity Kirui (Ken) 9:30.13; 5. Marwa Bouzayani (Tun) 9:30.13 PR; 7. Lea Meyer (Ger) 9:33.00; 8. Shuangshuang Xu (Chn) 9:34.92; 9. Michelle Finn (Ire) 9:36.26; 10. Lomi Muleta (Eth) 9:45.81; 11. Nataliya Strebkova (Ukr) 9:49.15; 12. Belén Casetta (Arg) 9:52.89; 13. Georgia Winkcup (Aus) 9:59.29; 14. Simone Ferraz (Bra) 10:00.92.

II–1. Frerichs 9:19.34; 2. Krause 9:19.62; 3. Chepkoech 9:19.82; 4. Zerfe 9:20.01; 5. Gega 9:23.85; 6. Gregson 9:26.11; 7. Tatiane Raquel da Silva (Bra) 9:36.43 NR; 8. Regan Yee (Can) 9:41.14; 9. Irene Van Der Reijken (Neth) 9:42.98; 10. Yuno Yamanaka (Jpn) 9:43.83; 11. Aimee Pratt (GB) 9:47.56; 12. Aneta Konieczek (Pol) 10:07.25; 13. Zita Kácser (Hun) 10:43.99.

III–1. Kiyeng 9:23.17; 2. Mišmaš-Zrimsek 9:23.36; 3. Demewoz 9:23.95; 4. Constien 9:24.31; 5. Bird 9:24.34; 6. Elena Burkard (Ger) 9:30.64; 7. Lili Anna Tóth (Hun) 9:30.96 PR; 8. Alicja Konieczek (Pol) 9:31.79; 9. Anna Emilie Møller (Den) 9:31.99; 10. Alycia Butterworth (Can) 9:34.25; 11. Amy Cashin (Aus) 9:34.67; 12. Eilish Flanagan (Ire) 9:34.86 PR; 13. Robles 9:45.37; 14. Adva Cohen (Isr) 10:05.95. ◻︎

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